The consumption of alcohol is a time-honored way of lubricating social interactions and lowering inhibitions. Of course, it can also cloud the drinker’s ordinarily good judgment and lead one into unanticipated dilemmas. Two films opening this weekend, Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies and The World’s End, by Shaun of the Dead duo Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, explore this phenomenon. In the first, excess drinking leads to falling in love with one’s virtually engaged co-worker, whereas the latter finds its inebriated quintet of longtime friends up staring down — through glazed and bloodshot eyes — an alien invasion.
Drinking Buddies, which garnered audience acclaim and a distribution deal at this year’s South by Southwest film festival, is an intimate and beautifully-observed drama. Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick all give great, nuanced performances as the story’s mismatched group of alcohol-fueled lovers. (Jason Sudeikis of SNL and the now-playing We're the Millers also appears). Wilde’s Kate is the head marketing honcho at a Chicago brewery where Johnson’s Luke works the production line. They are given to sharing a draft or two after work, and sometimes even during their lunch breaks. The pair shares an easy banter and obvious chemistry, even though Luke seems more obviously attracted to Kate. Quality assurance was never like this.
Luke, however, is this close to becoming formally engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Jill (Kendrick, the most lauded cast member given her Oscar nomination for 2009's Up in the Air). Meanwhile, Kate has a serious and savvy music-producer boyfriend, Chris (Livingston, who can also currently be seen in The Conjuring). Things come to a head when the two couples take a weekend trip to Chris's cabin in the woods, during which copious amounts of beer and wine are imbibed.
Joe Swanberg is a big name writer-director in the indie filmmaking world as well as an occasional actor; in fact, he appears in the horror movie You're Next, also opening this weekend. (For a full display of the cute Swanberg's talents — ahem — as an actor, check out his full-frontal and sexually-aroused performance as a closeted conservative preacher in 2010's gay drama Blackmail Boys.) Drinking Buddies is his best, most accessible/identifiable film to date. It is still loose and improv-feeling (much of the dialogue was reportedly improvised) but more controlled and assured from a directorial standpoint. Its also definitely a date movie, but one best appreciated while sober.
How could the creators of Shaun of the Dead possibly attempt to top their comedic zombie opus, which was an international hit back in 2004? Why, with the covert alien invasion depicted in The World's End, of course. Co-writer and star Simon Pegg plays Gary, an alcoholic 40-year old who never outgrew his high school days and longs to finish an all-night pub crawl that he and his best friends attempted their senior year. While his mates (played by fellow Shaun alum Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and The Hobbit's Martin Freeman) have all settled down with families and respectable jobs, Gary remains jobless and generally aimless.
Returning to their hometown of Newton Haven, billed as the "home of the UK's first roundabout," the old friends reluctantly agree to help Gary achieve his quest. There are 11 pubs standing between them and their final destination, The World's End, and they must each drink at least one pint of beer in each (never mind that Frost's Andy is a recovering alcoholic). Along the way, the group notices things are a little amiss in their old stomping grounds, the most disturbing discrepancies of which are the super-strong, literally blue-blooded replicants who have taken over their town and are in the process of taking over the planet.
While it isn't as outrageously funny nor as clever as this June's similar This is the End, I enjoyed The World's End, especially the playfulness of its actors and Edgar Wright's direction. Paul Machliss's editing is also of great support in this regard. At nearly two hours, the movie gets long and belabored for a lightweight comedy that doesn't have much of gravitas to say but I really liked its post-apocalyptic ending. If excessive drinking can help restore civilization, count me in!
Drinking Buddies: B+
The World’s End: B
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.